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Contour Dynamics Methods

Pullin, D. I. (1992) Contour Dynamics Methods. Annual Review of Fluid Mechanics, 24 . pp. 89-115. ISSN 0066-4189.

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In an early paper on the stability of fluid layers with uniform vorticity Rayleigh (1880) remarks: "... In such cases, the velocity curve is composed of portions of straight lines which meet each other at finite angles. This state of things may be supposed to be slightly disturbed by bending the surfaces of transition, and the determination of the subsequent motion depends upon that of the form of these surfaces. For co retains its constant value throughout each layer unchanged in the absence of friction, and by a well-known theorem the whole motion depends upon [omega]." We can now recognize this as essentially the principal of contour dynamics (CD), where [omega] is the uniform vorticity. The theorem referred to is the Biot-Savart law. Nearly a century later Zabusky et al (1979) presented numerical CD calculations of nonlinear vortex patch evolution. Subsequently, owing to its compact form conferring a deceptive simplicity, CD has become a widely used method for the investigation of two-dimensional rotational flow of an incompressible inviscid fluid. The aim of this article is to survey the development, technical details, and vortex-dynamic applications of the CD method in an effort to assess its impact on our understanding of the mechanics of rotational flow in two dimensions at ultrahigh Reynolds numbers. The study of the dynamics of two- and three-dimensional vortex mechanics by computational methods has been an active research area for more than two decades. Quite apart from many practical applications in the aerodynamics of separated flows, the theoretical and numerical study of vortices in incompressible fluids has been stimulated by the idea that turbulent fluid motion may be viewed as comprising ensembles of more or less coherent laminar vortex structures that interact via relatively simple dynamics and by the appeal of the vorticity equation, which does not contain the fluid pressure. Two-dimensional vortex interactions have been perceived as supposedly relevant to the origins of coherent structures observed experimentally in mixing layers, jets, and wakes, and for models of large-scale atmospheric and oceanic turbulence. Interest has often focused on the limit of infinite Reynolds number, where in the absence of boundaries, the inviscid Euler equations are assumed to properly describe the flow dynamics. The numerous surveys of progress in the study of vorticity and the use of numerical methods applied to vortex mechanics include articles by Saffman & Baker (1979) and Saffman (1981) on inviscid vortex interactions and Aref (1983) on two-dimensional flows. Numerical methods have been surveyed by Chorin (1980), and Leonard (1980, 1985). Caflisch (1988) describes work on the mathematical aspects of the subject. Zabusky (1981), Aref (1983), and Melander et al (1987b) discuss various aspects of CD. The review of Dritschel (1989) gives emphasis to numerical issues in CD and to recent computations with contour surgery. This article is confined to a discussion of vortices on a two-dimensional surface. We generally follow Saffman & Baker (1979) in matters of definition. In two dimensions a vortex sheet is a line of discontinuity in velocity while a vortex jump is a line of discontinuity in vorticity. We shall, however, use filament to denote a two-dimensional ribbon of vorticity surrounded by fluid with vorticity of different magnitude (which may be zero), rather than the more usual three-dimensional idea of a vortex tube. The ambiguity is unfortunate but is already in the literature. Additionally, a vortex patch is a finite, singly connected area of uniform vorticity while a vortex strip is an infinite strip of uniform vorticity with finite thickness, or equivalently, an infinite filament. Contour Dynamics will refer to the numerical solution of initial value problems for piecewise constant vorticity distributions by the Lagrangian method of calculating the evolution of the vorticity jumps. Such flows are often related to corresponding solutions of the Euler equations that are steady in some translating or rotating frame of reference. These solutions will be called vortex equilibria, and the numerical technique for computing their shapes based on CD is often referred to as contour statics. The mathematical foundation for the study of vorticity was laid primarily by the well-known investigations of Helmholtz, Kelvin, J. J. Thomson, Love, and others. In our century, efforts to produce numerical simulations of flows governed by the Euler equations have utilized a variety of Eulerian, Lagrangian, and hybrid methods. Among the former are the class of spectral methods that now comprise the prevailing tool for large-scale two- and three-dimensional calculations (see Hussaini & Zang 1987). The Lagrangian methods for two-dimensional flows have been predominantly vortex tracking techniques based on the Helmholtz vorticity laws. The first initial value calculations were those of Rosenhead (193l) and Westwater (1935) who attempted to calculate vortex sheet evolution by the motion of O(10) point vortices. Subsequent efforts by Moore (1974) (see also Moore 1983, 1985) and others to produce more refined computations for vortex sheets have failed for reasons related to the tendency for initially smooth vortex sheet data to produce singularities (Moore 1979). Discrete vortex methods used to study the nonlinear dynamics of vortex patches and layers have included the evolution of assemblies of point vortices by direct summation (e.g. Acton 1976) and the cloud in cell method (Roberts & Christiansen 1972, Christiansen & Zabusky 1973, Aref & Siggia 1980, 1981). For reviews see Leonard (1980) and Aref (1983). These techniques have often been criticized for their lack of accuracy and numerical convergence and because they may be subject to grid scale dispersion. However, many qualitative vortex phenomena observed in nature and in experiments, such as amalgamation events and others still under active investigation (e.g. filamentation) were first simulated numerically with discrete vortices. The contour dynamics approach is attractive because it appears to allow direct access, at least for small times, to the inviscid dynamics for vorticity distributions smoother than those of either point vortices or vortex sheets, while at the same time enabling the mapping of the two-dimensional Euler equations to a one-dimensional Lagrangian form. In Section 2 we discuss the formulation and numerical implementation of contour dynamics for the Euler equations in two dimensions. Section 3 is concerned with applications to isolated and multiple vortex systems and to vortex layers. An attempt is made to relate this work to calculations of the relevant vortex equilibria and to results obtained with other methods. Axisymmetric contour dynamics and the treatment of the multi-layer model of quasigeostrophic flows are described in Section 4 while Section 5 is devoted to a discussion of the tendency shown by vorticity jumps to undergo the strange and subtle phenomenon of filamentation.

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Additional Information:"Reprinted, with permission, from the Annual Review of Fluid Mechanics, Volume 24 copyright 1992 by Annual Reviews," The author wishes to thank Drs. G. R. Baker, D. I. Meiron, D. W. Moore, and M. J. Shelley for helpful discussions. Thanks are due especially to Dr. P. G. Saffman for providing valuable comments on a manuscript draft and to Dr. A. Rouhi for explaining the concepts of Hamiltonian dynamics as applied to vortex patches.
Subject Keywords:vorticity, vortex dynamics
Record Number:CaltechAUTHORS:PULarfm92
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Usage Policy:No commercial reproduction, distribution, display or performance rights in this work are provided.
ID Code:651
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Deposited On:09 Sep 2005
Last Modified:26 Dec 2012 08:40

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